The Diamond Heart, King's Lynn, Norfolk
King's Lynn is one of the architectural treasure houses of East Anglia, whose most fascinating area is the Tuesday Market, with a rich selection of Georgian and other buildings.
On the north side of the market square stands house number 15-16; set very prominently into the red-brick above one of its windows is a rather inexpertly carved diamond, within which sits a still more crudely carved heart. The lack of skill could lead you to think this is the work of a passing vandal, were it not for the fact that the heart is more than ten feet above the ground.
The carving commemorates something far more sinister, or so it is said, than some passing love. For as well as being a trading place, the Tuesday Market was for many years the spot where Lynn carried out its executions.
There are several versions of the legend surrounding the heart, with variations in method of execution, crime and person. The two most commonly told are a tale of witchcraft and another of treachery.
The witch's tale is simple enough. Margaret Read was burned at the stake here in 1590, and when the flames were devouring her of a sudden her heart exploded from her body and smashed against the wall now marked with the heart. According to several tellings things didn't finish there - the beating organ rolled all the way to the Ouse and disappeared into the waters.
The second story is somewhat sadder. A housemaid let slip to her new lover that her widowed and childless mistress had promised to leave her fortune to said maid. Soon after he had sworn to marry the wench, doubtless with much wicked twirling of moustaches, and she had made her own will in his favour, the old mistress was conveniently murdered in her home. Found guilty of the crime of petty treachery - a woman murdering her husband or a female servant her master or mistress - the girl was given the customary sentence for such a crime. She would burn at the stake (still the case until 1790: for details see the Famous Date article on March 18 1789).
When the terrible day came the condemned servant swore her innocence yet again, and foretold that as proof her heart would burst from her body as she was consumed in the fire. And so it did, leaving tell-tale bloodstains on the wall where the heart insignia now marks the spot.
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